The Increasing Significance of Online Doctor Reviews in Healthcare Marketing


Used to be, healthcare marketing was all about one out of 10 doctors recommending some product, service or cure. Today, the shoe is on the other foot.

Consumers are scouring online doctor reviews and ratings to discover which doctors 9 out of 10 patients recommend. The patient review has become a force to be reckoned with.

This proliferation of doctor review sites offer the perfect forum for people to answer surveys and leave comments about a doctor’s skill or bedside manner. More than that, these doctor review websites offer a helpful resource to people in their search for a specialist.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 65 percent of respondents were aware of online doctor ratings. Of those who used the sites, 35 percent reported selecting a physician based on good reviews, while 37 percent avoided a physician based on bad reviews.

“The stakes are higher now for physicians,” explains Dr. David A. Hanauer of the University of Michigan Medical School, who co-authored the report. “Choosing a physician is not like choosing a movie. If you pick a ‘bad’ movie you might have wasted a few dollars and a few hours. If you pick a ‘bad’ doctor, your health and well-being could be at stake.”

The Age of Self-Referrals

An even more fascinating insight comes from this year’s Specialist Consumer Choice Survey: 12,610 respondents who had a specialist visit in the last 12 months were probed about their path to seeing their specialist. A staggering 34 percent indicated that they self-selected their medical specialist. In other words, a growing number of patients are selecting their specialist without the advice or input of a referring physcian.

While some of this “self-referred” volume comes from the referral of a trusted friend or neighbor, much of this increased self-referred activity is coming from these online doctor reviews.

The Scalpel Cuts Both Ways

While a positive rating for a physician is a boon to their medical practice, one bad review can be devastating. Several physicians have had to file lawsuits to defend their reputation. Santa Clara University lists more than 30 examples of doctors filing lawsuits over negative online reviews, posted on sites like Facebook, Yelp and RateMDs. Recently, a Boston surgeon sued the family of a patient who posted negative comments on a personal blog. The surgeon accused the family of defamation and demanded financial compensation for the damage to her career.


What Should Your Practice Do?

Fight fire with fire. Consider adding testimonials and a patient review functionality to your website. Encourage satisfied patients to post their review. This is particularly helpful to the younger associates in your practice who are trying to build their reputations. Another wise move is for your practice to become more active on social media. If your practice doesn’t have a Facebook page, get one. If you have one, post regular content about your doctors, as well as interesting videos about relevant medical procedures. Patients are often using the web to educate themselves about medical conditions they may have and their prospects for seeking medical treatment. The more educational videos you post, the more perceived value you create for your practice.

Play up school ties. People are funny––an Aggie will oftentimes prefer an Aggie doctor. A Longhorn will many times choose a UT grad over an OU grad despite the number of stars by their name in the doctor ratings. Dimensionalize your doctors, their hobbies, awards and publications. These extracurricular activities can often offset a doctor’s lackluster bedside manner. The more information your website and social outlets include, the less likely prospects will head to Yelp to pick their brain surgeon or chiropractor.

If your medical practice could use a marketing partner with loads of healthcare marketing acumen, we’d like to make a referral: Agency Creative. You can reach us at 972-488-1660.

We are a Dallas advertising agency with expertise in healthcare marketing.